Anyone who lives in California finds out fairly quickly that there’s a north and a south – and the two regions are different in many ways. The primary reasons for the differences has to do with weather, cultural and geography. The latter is significant, what with mountain and deserts along with a large valley making the divide muddled at best. Geographically speaking, the southern part of the state is drawn by 35° 47′ 28″ north latitude. However, this isn’t necessarily how it works in reality.
Central California is used to designate areas in the middle of the state to differentiate between the two giants to the north and south – the Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles. However, it’s generally regarded that the state is of two parts: north and south. Here on the Central Coast, the line is partly drawn through the center of San Luis Obispo County with the Cuesta Grade. First used as part of the El Camino Real (The King’s Highway) to connect all the Spanish missions, it is a sliver of a crevice that was used by the railroads and eventually became an opening for a major north south highway (101).
This seemingly arbitrary ridge – part of the Santa Lucia Range – is the physical dividing line between what is called the ‘North County’ and the southern portion of San Luis Obispo County. It also could be a cultural divide as well.
The southern part of the county tends to be from a laid back typical California attitude that includes mild weather and beaches – not unlike SoCal. North is a different way of life. Much of this land north of the Cuesta Grade is wine country and the deep diurnals with definitive seasons are some of the differences that break these two regions up.
And sports. Boy, did I learn quickly. When I first moved here from 250 miles away in SoCal, I soon learned that this was San Francisco country, and to some extent, a Bay Area sports enclave, especially in Paso Robles. I knew that the schools in the locale mostly played Southern California programs in sports – I played a football game some 40 years ago at War Memorial Stadium here in Paso. However, that’s where the commonality ends. I even contacted the local sports guy on TV – you can do that here – and he said what I had noticed: the Cuesta Grade divided the region.
North to San Francisco
Walk into a barbershop, real estate office or even a grocery store in Paso Robles and there are San Francisco Giants’ pennants, signs et all wherever you look. As a lifelong and true-blue Dodger fan, this made me a little ill. And they’ve been making championship trophy tour appearances around here of late … well, ugh is all I can say. No matter, it is a way of life and tells you a lot about the mentality of the region.
The wine culture is big in Paso and although the area thinks of itself as much different than Napa, there’s no denying the similarity in the influence of vino in the North County. And politically there’s a variance as well. The city of San Luis Obispo has a long-standing tilt to the left, while North County is a bastion of conservatives.
The Cuesta Grade pass maybe only 1,500 feet in elevation, but it might as well be the Himalayas. The grade divides the state on the Central Coast and the county as a whole is united when it comes to helping out each other, such as commerce, tourism platforms and the same local television station. Still, much is divergent in regards to the culture of the Central Coast as the Cuesta Grade indeed divides the Golden State into the a north and south.
Additional sources: El Camino Real & The Route of the Daylight
Daryle W. Hier
The biggest difference I found between SoCal and the ‘North County’ (specifically the Central Coast) is the cultural change. People are hugely more friendly, yes hugely, plus it’s great living in an area that is primarily wine oriented. Love it here in Paso and don’t find it difficult at all ignoring the rest of the northern part of the state. Isn’t it time for a glass of wine?